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Despite Protests From Brazil, Trial For 840-Pound Emerald Will Continue

This 2008 file photo provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department shows the so-called Bahia Emerald.
This 2008 file photo provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department shows the so-called Bahia Emerald.

A trial about who owns a 840-pound emerald will continue despite international protest.

The ownership of the Bahia Emerald, as the massive rock is known, has been hotly contested for years. But in September, the stone became the subject of international controversy, when Brazil said all the ownership questions were irrelevant because the 180,000 carat, $372 million rock was illegally exported.

The Los Angeles Times reportsthat a judge in California on Monday, decided to continue trying to sort out its rightful owner, without rejecting Brazil's claim.

The Times' reports:

"The Brazilian government last year asked a judge to dismiss the case outright or put it on hold while Brazilian officials continue negotiations with the U.S. government to secure the stone's return.

"Brazil's Los Angeles-based lawyer, John Nadolenco, told the judge that a decision in Los Angeles Superior Court would significantly hinder Brazil's ongoing discussions with the federal government.

"Judge Michael Johnson made clear Monday that he was not ruling on the merits of Brazil's claim to ownership, but instead solely on the motion to dismiss or pause current court proceedings in Los Angeles. Brazil's motion lacked sufficient evidence to warrant halting the case, Johnson said. There was no official declaration from Brazilian officials, nor was there any indication that diplomatic efforts would prove fruitful or timely."

Also, the judge ruled, taxpayers cannot continue to pay for the safekeeping of the emerald, so a decision has to be reached.

This all means that the Bahia Emerald will continue on a long and strange journey. Here's how CBS News quickly recounts its tale:

"The emerald was first discovered in Brazil's Bahia mines in 2001. It was reportedly shipped from São Paulo to northern California, then bought, sold and allegedly stolen several times in several locations. Then in 2008, a man named Larry Biegler reported it stolen from his California warehouse. Police found the emerald in Las Vegas in the possession of [Kit] Morrison, who said he bought it from Biegler."

Who owns it is now the question before the court.

For a good read on how this rock got where it is, read Bloomberg's account of the saga.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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